Archive for July 2008

Cultural Spit Swap!

July 9, 2008

No, sadly, this post is not about sexual toursim, I just thought it was a cool sounding title. I am personally tired of Canada’s music being only associated with Nickleback, Avril Lavigne, and Celine Dion. I am sure there are other nations out there who bow their head with shame when that one overplayed stereotypical song comes on the radio and all eyes fall on you for your geographical association.

In response to being associated with songs I don’t even like, and didn’t like the first ten thousand times I heard them, I am going to recommend some tracks to refresh your audition view of Canada. Later I am going to move on to some tunes from the UK that I quite fancy. Lets all get involved, let’s not just export commercial crap tunes. Currently, it seems like there is there some kind of tariff on originality

Oh, if you click on the names of the group/musician it will link you to a site where you can listen to their songs for free.

My personal favorite The Awkward Stage (rock singer songwriter)
With some of the best lyrics (meaningful, dark and funny all at once) I have ever heard, the leader singer, Shane Nelken (who also works at a funeral home) inspires my confidence in Canadian Indie music. Hell, he makes went want to move to British Columbia (a province in Canada) so I can live in his bushes and calculate how to steal his thoughts.

Listen to this gem “West Van girl, delicate and frail, I will read your skin like braille in your suburban hillside jail.” (Note that West Van is referring to West Vancouver, a city in the province of British Columbia NOT the capital as I foolish said please forgive me oh great CAPITAL city of Victoria)
Try– The Morons are Winning, Anime eyes, and West Van Girl

Pop paradise Two hours traffic (alt pop)
These guys may be from the smallest province in Canada (Prince Edward Island) but that doesn’t stop them from plastering a smile on my face and unconsciously forcing me to tap my toes. Don’t be afraid of the term ‘pop’, it doesn’t mean that they’ve cut back on the lyrics. Given that their band name is a Shakespearian reference I think you can put two and two together.
Try– Stuck for the Summer, Heroes of the Sidewalk, and Jezebel

Electric excellence Junior Boys (electronic, maybe a bit minimalist)
Hamilton, Ontario you have never sounded so good. Junior Boys (and MSTRKFT and The New Deal) stretched my music enjoyment into the world of the electronic. That lot also simultaneously prepared me for the UK’s love of the electronic dance music. I could not get the song “In the Morning” out of my head for about a month and before I learned I could electronically download Canadian albums (via the Itunes store- I don’t advocate pirating the underpaid, the lesser known and the truly original) I simply continually listened to the same CBC radio 3 podcast (with Grant Lawrence). I played that same podcast so much that when I try to play it now it sounds like a dusty record from the 1800s.
Try– In the Morning, Bellona, and Double Shadow

Personal thanks to CBC Radio 3 for having an awesome website. Really, isn’t that why the Internet still exists so we can piggyback the hard work and coolness of others? Listen to those tracks and you will know the truth, those scientists at CERN (who actually created the internet- sorry Mr. Gore) just really craved some Canadian beats.


Geophysics! With enough money, and insanity, you can do it at home!

July 8, 2008

Geophysics is like most TV archaeology programmes, the majority of the work is behind the scenes and unglamorous but important if any work is to be done. So how does one go about conducting a geophysical survey on an archaeological site?

What you’ll need
At least three people – one person to use the machine and collect the data and two “line monkeys” (and eventually one person needs to be able to use the software to view the results)
Many measuring tapes- preferably fiberglass and 60M long
Bamboo “canes”
At least 2 clotheslines with one meter intervals marked off with colored tape
Ranging rods (large metallic rods with alternating colors)
A geophysics recording device- resistivity or magnetic device depending on what you are looking for (Geoscan and Bartington are the two largest producers)
Interpretation software- geoscan seems to have the most widely used software
The right conditions- preferably flat, well drained and non magnetic soil with no brambles or flesh craving insect to be found

How do you get started?
A major concept to get your head around is the idea of a “baseline”. No, I’m not talking about the mating call of middle-class guys that you can hear before you even see their Jeep TJ or their Honda Civic. A baseline is a centerline that acts as the backbone for your survey. If you are doing a larger scale “landscape survey” then you would have a very long baseline which would be in the center of your area of interest, say a Rome fort. You are using this line to divide the landscape into smaller grids of 20 x 20M or 10 x 10M.

From this centerline you measure, or subdivided the line into, 20M intervals (or 10M ) and the triangulate the other two points. Yes that’s right, you have to use math in archaeology. Kids, remember to learn trigonometry and geometry. You have the length of two known points, how do you learn the unknown point(s)? Help me Pythagorean theorem! If you are making 20 x 20M grids then here is a hint, you make a triangular with measure tapes with one tape measuring 20M and one measuring 28.28M. Then you switch the tape measurements, make another triangle and now you have your first grid!

Now use the bamboo canes to stake in a tape along the base line. Imagine you have made a giant square on the earth and one side is now measurable. Stake in a tape opposite to the measurable side of the box and now you would have the “line monkeys” use the tapes as guides and stake the clotheslines over the tape. Now the data collection/fun can begin.

Simplifying matters (for those who aren’t experienced geophysicists), the surveyor would carry the geophysical device and collect data when the machine was over the colored tape of the clothesline. When one line is complete, they would move over a meter, turn around and start the process anew. Meanwhile the “line monkeys” would perform the “ritual dance” of unstaking the clotheslines and moving them into the next position. The line monkeys have to move around the surveyor so that the data collection is not stopped or compromised, least they have to redo the data collection for that line. Once the grid is complete, the tapes on either side are moved to the next grid, much like the movement of two inchworms, and the process begins again.

I hope that you understand some of the basics of a geophysical survey. Now here are some complications that occur. When you are working on a slope the tape measurements become inaccurate and the wind can catch the tapes like a sail and rip them out of your hands. When doing a magnetic survey the ends of the tapes have metal in them and have to be kept at least 2Ms away from the machine. As if thats not bad enough many farm animals enjoy chewing on the fiberglass tapes and knocking over the canes. Don’t believe me? Check out this picture.

Not the bambo cane!

Not the bambo cane!

Ridgewayus hic! (Ridgeway was here)

July 2, 2008

Last night I finished my geophysical tour of duty. At Scone we finished hunting for the Medieval Abbey and associated outbuildings with GPR. The last two days (The 25-26th of June) we investigated the proposed area of the Medieval village with a fluxgate gradiometer (which looks for magnetic anomalies bellow the ground). It turns out we were on the edge of a rig and furrow field (an old farming technique) and we might have located a homestead or a field building. We also scanned the nearby Skittery (sp?) ditch, which was a massive open sewage system. Sadly, this ditch was infilled in modern times and has a lot of metal in it, which effectively ruins any chances of interpreting the ditch feature.

I took Friday (June 27th) off. By took off I mean washed all of my non-magnetic outdoor clothing and readied myself for another batch of geophysics.

Saturday, June 28th, we traveled to Ecclefechan and set up a grid system at the Roman fort of Burnswark. There are actually two Roman forts, or castra (singular-castrum), based around a massive Iron Age hill fort. We primarily investigated the southern fort, which is a unique creature. The Iron age hill fort was excavated and thousands of lead slingshot were found in the ‘destruction level’. Originally thought to be a siege site, it is now thought that the hill fort was used as a training ground for the Roman. The fort has a smaller ‘fortlet’ within the typical double ditches of the larger fort. Also on the northern wall there are three mounds known as the ‘three brethren’. The purpose of these mounds is unknown. It is thought that they were created for an artillery platform for ballistae. Personally, I do not believe this as I think they are simple too close to the hill fort.

After a few days of thinking over their purpose, I have come to my own conclusion. I think that they are gateways modified to drain water away from the Roman fort. Many Roman forts have a rectangular wall a few meters out from the earthworks so that the Roman soldiers can control access to and from the fort. The fort is downhill from a very large hill, I think that water would easily enter and flood the Roman camp. I think that the standard gate system was modified with mounds so the water would collect in the ditch around the mounds and be likely be diverted away either outside the earthworks or through the double ditches. It is just a theory but any person who has camped downhill, especially in Scotland, will know just how a bit of rain can ruin your day.

There was 7 people in our crew, 95% were fellow post grads, and armed with two a fluxgate gradiometers and a resistivity meter (which compares the electrical resistance of ground) we covered a huge area. Under the watchful eyes of thousands of sheep we marched up and down the slopes to the sounds of beeps from our high tech devices and the bleating of sheep. It was a great experience and the longer you stayed at the base of that hill, the easier it was to envision Roman soldiers in testudo (tortoise) formation marching up to the hill fort with suppressing fire in the form of hails of lead sling shot. There may have been an actually Scottish opposition present (likely called  ‘Picts’ which roughly means “painted ones” due to the usage of body paint and tattoos) to return fire and clash in close combat  or it may have only been a daily drill. Only time and additional archaeological investigation will give us any answers.